A woman who has previously worked as junior court assistant at the Supreme Court of India, wrote to 22 judges of the court on Friday, alleging sexual harassment by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
In an affidavit she has detailed the alleged harassment at the residence office of Gogoi on October 10 and 11, 2018, and the repercussions that followed when she refused his advances. The CJI has denied these allegations and said they were 'unbelievable' He also said that the woman in question had worked in the Supreme Court for just less than two months and accused her of having a 'criminal background'. He has alleged it was a plot to deactivate the office of the CJI.
The Scroll reports that they have accessed the affidavit and covering letter which says, “He hugged me around the waist, and touched me all over my body with his arms and by pressing his body against mine, and did not let go. He told me ‘hold me’, he did not let go of me despite the fact that I froze and tried to get out of his embrace by stiffening and moving my body away.”
The Secretary General of the Supreme Court of India has responded to Scroll by calling the allegations ‘completely and absolutely false and scurrilous’.
“It is also very possible that there are mischievous forces behind all this, with an intention to malign the institution,” the Secretary General wrote in an email.
The woman alleges that two months after the incident, she was dismissed from service – on December 21, and her entire family had to bear the aftermath. Her husband and brother in law, both of whom were with the police, were suspended on December 28, citing a six year old case of a colony dispute, which had been settled before she says. Her brother-in-law who is a person with disability and had been working as junior court attendant since October 9, was terminated on January 14, without giving any reason.
The harassment does not stop there, the woman writes. She and her husband had gone to their ancestral village in Rajasthan in March, from where the Delhi police took them for questioning her in a two-year-old “cheating case” involving Rs 50,000 that she had allegedly taken from someone with a promise of giving them a job.
The day after that, along with the woman and her husband, her brother-in-law and wife and another male relative were subjected to physical and mental abuse, with their hands and legs cuffed.
The woman also recounts an episode from January when she was called to the Chief Justice’s residence and asked to apologise to his wife by prostrating before her and rubbing her nose on the floor. The woman writes in the letter she could not understand why her family was continuously attacked even after she apologized in this manner.
Caravan magazine reports about videos that the woman produced, which “indicate that Rajnath Singh, the union home minister, and Amulya Patnaik, the commissioner of the Delhi Police, were made aware of the incident at least as early as 11 January 2019.”
“What can you do for me?”
Once the CJI had assumed office, he had asked her for her disabled brother-in-law’s resume and he got the job even though there were problems in his medical test, the woman writes. Gogoi also used to invite her husband to functions including the party he threw when he was assuming office, and the swearing-in ceremony – which were considered unusual given the woman is a junior court assistant and the spouses of much junior colleagues were not invited.
It is after he took his office that Gogoi began asking her what she would do for her, the woman writes in her affidavit. When she spoke about her gratitude, he came forward to take her hands in his, pinch her cheeks, put his arms around her waist and tell her, “I want this from you.”
After she pushed him away and left the room, confused, he called her back in a few minutes later, and told her she cannot share this with anyone, and made her write a note that suggested it was her that asked if she could hold him. She wrote as he said, but found herself moved out of the residence office soon after, and then after multiple transfers, dismissed.
The Secretary General email to Scroll says the woman had worked only for a short period at the residence office of the CJI and “given the nature of her duties, she had no occasion to interact directly with the Chief Justice of India.”
The email further says there were “complaints made against her by the secretariat of the Chief Justice of India, to the Secretary General on account of her inappropriate behavior, and this resulted in her transfer out of the home office of the CJI. Apart from the misconduct formally recorded in the complaint by the secretariat, there were other counts of misconduct on her part.”
These counts of misconduct, include her taking one day’s casual leave without permission when she went to her daughter’s school, for questioning decisions of senior officers regarding her transfer and leave, and she had tried to bring undue influence by making the president of the Supreme Court Employees Welfare Association enquire about her.
The woman had replied to these charges, saying, “I had been posted to three different places. Being extremely anxious and insecure, what I expressed to the Branch Officer, Admin Materials Section was not reluctance to perform duties assigned to me but only my anxiety at being allotted three posting in a short span of time.”
A three-judge Bench comprising the Chief Justice of India, Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Sanjeev Khanna had a special siting at 10.30 am on Saturday to deal with a matter of 'great public importance touching upon the independence of judiciary'.